Vanessa Ais is a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Therapist who dedicates her time and energy to the betterment of quality of life for people with disabilities. Her story is an example of finding strength in your roots.
I would sit on the balcony for hours…watching the Haitian sunset, welcoming in the dark. Eventually, the pitch black dark… most nights, we had no electricity.
Being the daughter of two strict Haitian parents, I rarely, if ever, stepped outside my own gate. I was only familiar with what, in Creole, I called L³.
Lakay, Lekol, Legliz, meaning home, school, and church.
The balcony was my retreat. It was my way of being “out” without actually leaving my house. Located on the second floor, our balcony provided an amazing view of the world. I would lean over the edges and watch people running errands, going on dates, playing sports. I would watch with envy, longing to also be “out” there with as much comfort and joy as the people below. I would soak in the conversations, the laughter, even the loud arguments. As insignificant as it may have all seemed, being a kid who rarely left my house for anything other than school and church, I absorbed every bit of it with fascination.
This was just our culture, our day to day life, our routine. My parents believed that our safety ultimately lay within the walls of our home, and outside that home was a very dangerous place. We were a simple, Christian family living in Haiti. We prayed together, every night before bed. Life was beautiful and … simple, maybe too simple.
Most evenings and weekends, I felt empty. I longed for more. I longed for peaceful walks, bicycle rides in the park, or to hang out with the other kids in the neighborhood.
The balcony became my getaway. It became my “outside from the inside”. I learned to ride a bike on my balcony… We welcomed family and friends on our balcony… We spent countless hours playing, laughing, crying and conversing on our balcony… I could stare over the edge for hours and watch people living their lives; some working, some laughing, some caught in a warm hug or a passionate kiss, and some sitting on their steps outside of their homes having interesting conversations.
In the evenings, I could meditate for hours sitting on our rocking chair, absorbing the warm tropical breeze while gazing out over the mountains. My nights in Haiti simply would not have been the same without enjoying the beautiful sky from our balcony. Many nights, I would attempt to count the stars. I would find myself lost in a daze, admiring the full moon.
Thirteen years later, I still vividly remember our balcony. Ivory and beige, a white large heart-shaped gate at the entrance, a heart-shaped window from which you could see our living room, four bright yellow and ivory round marble chairs surrounding an ivory large round marble table, white lawn chairs scattered all around, tall and short plants carefully placed in all four corners of the balcony. It was all so beautiful, all so big. Our balcony was the biggest area of the house.
Our balcony is no longer. It crumbled during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The bright yellow and ivory chairs, the white lawn chairs, the large heart-shaped gate, and windows, the plants, all lay buried under what once was my home.
As I grow older, I fear the idea of forgetting what it looked like, I cry at the thought of never being able to show my children one of the most important places and aspects of my life.
I can only hold on to the memories that we have created in our home… on our balcony. The joy it bought, the togetherness it facilitated, the peace it provided, the opportunities it gave me to create my own gateway. The balcony was my retreat. It was my way of being “out”.